On the surface, the concept of a one-night-only showcase of work from a small group of fine art students shouldn’t really necessitate a review – it’s not as though you can go and see it after reading about it.
However, ‘Different Strokes’ – the pop-up exhibition from six students of The Cass, London Metropolitan University’s art, architecture and design school – is an intriguing insight into the early stages of artistic development and training, as well as trials in curation.
The group tonight is all half-way through their first year, and the show is part of a project to give students experience of the inner-workings of producing an exhibition in a big city. Though everyone in their year will have to put on such a show, they’re the first of this batch, and they’ve picked the upstairs room in The Castle, a pub in Aldgate East, as their pop-up location.
An East End boozer seems an odd choice for an art exhibition, but it becomes apparent that the pub setting has allowed for some interesting flexibility. Normally the space is a room for gigs, so there are bright stage lights bringing a theatrical chiaroscuro to the venue aesthetic.
The students have been allowed to move things around and incorporate furniture fixtures into their works: of note are student Shirley Accini’s nylon tights, twisted and intertwined around the pub’s quilted leather armchairs in the centre of the room.
There’s a relaxed atmosphere as people mill around with pints and chat with the students about their work, and the only rule was about not sticking things to the wall – the artists have compromised accordingly with sometimes quite intricate hangings of their work.
These aren’t artists without a voice, as one might anticipate from a showcase of students not yet finished with their first year. A stand-out is Oriana Jemide, an artist aiming to bridge the gap between her cultural heritage from both the UK and Nigeria, as she feels that many young black Britons might have become disconnected from their origins.
Combined with an interest in the empowerment of women, her work displays strong black women across multimedia platforms – a short film that seems to subtly ask questions about consumerism, appearance and black hair runs on her laptop alongside the paintings, textiles and sculptures.
In the film she wears homemade jewellery of white stones and string, and these have doubled-up to form part of a sculptural collage that, combined with rope and hessian, looks a bit like it’s been washed-up from a shipwreck, which might well tie-in with her interest in exploring colonialism, as well as her background in fashion.
Ronan Cahill, a mature student, feels his degree has been a way of reinvigorating his childhood passion for art, and his output is evidence of this enjoyment: the sheer wealth of work he has produced across a variety of platforms is very much indicative of a certain exuberance. These are abstracted works, the most interesting of which are perhaps the small boxes on top of his self-created plinth, adorned with tiny plastic figures.
Iranian Somayyeh Melksari’s work recalls the colourful chaos of the abstract expressionists – albeit if they’d used leftover nail polish as well as paint. There is an accomplished use of different tones here which, again, is maybe linked to her background in fashion.
The aforementioned Shirley Accini seems to create work with an almost cartoon-y malleability, and the challenge of laying out her work in such an unusual environment is one she seems happy to be able to meet and play with.
If there’s one shortcoming to the chosen space, it’s that it’s actually quite difficult to see and examine some of the works on display, as – being a pub – there ultimately has to be at least a bit of furniture. Although they’ve worked around it, trying to get a good view of Joanne White’s work, for example, which confronts personal space and disability, is tricky without asking everyone to move. The same is true of Ryan Rasco’s landscapes. Fellow students are mainly here to celebrate, of course, and it’s a relaxed event rather than a high-brow pop-up — but possibly a larger space, or a limit on numbers at a time, might serve the artists’ oeuvres better.
Overall, however, ‘Different Strokes’ is an impressive and ambitious fledgling endeavour at an exhibition, and is a testament to both the The Cass and its students.